Uncommon Sense

August 24, 2012

Romney Tax Disclosure Reluctance Resolved!

This weekend, presidential candidate Mitt Romney is going to explain his reluctance to disclose more than his 2010 federal tax return. Apparently he doesn’t want people to see how much he donates to his church!

This seems to be a change of heart because both he and his wife are seen several times on video proudly proclaiming that he gives 10% of his income to “his church” or “to charity.” Romney has even described the tithing process to which he subscribes.

Also apparently he is confused.

He seems to believe that the 10% he gives to his church is the equivalent to giving 10% to charity. It is not. His church, the Church of Latter-day Saints or “The Mormon Church,” only claims that 3-4% of their income goes for charitable purposes. The rest goes into building churches, paying employees, etc. So Romney really is only giving 0.3-0.4% of his income to charity, which makes him a rich piker but a piker nonetheless.

Just so there is no confusion about this, in this country we do not tax churches because of the separation of church and state, not because they are charities, per se. This is a fact that more than a few churches have benefited from by running “for profit” services under their auspices without paying any taxes.

While the Romneys have been proud to boast of their tithing, at least until now, I beg to differ. Giving 10% of a $20,000,000 annual income to your church is not a hard thing to do; in fact it is quite easy. Giving 10% of a $20,000 annual income would be a hard thing. Somehow I think you or I could scrape by on just $18,000,000 in income . . . oh, and only paying an effective 14% federal tax rate on that, too.

We have a right to know whether Mr. Romney will benefit personally from any of his policies and by how much. Not telling us how much he will benefit from those policies he shows a lack of faith in the American people or nefarious intent.

August 23, 2012

Legitimate Christian Conservative Confusion or Maybe the Church Lady Got It Right

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:24 pm
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The Republican presidential campaign spent the entire week off message . . . again. This week they have been scurrying around denying that their abortion policy is not what they have always insisted it is. The Republicans feel there should be a federal law banning abortion with no exceptions. No, they don’t. Yes, they do. No! Yes! No! Gosh!

I commented on this in my last post with:

Your 13-year old daughter has been brutally beaten and raped.
While in the hospital an official of the government visited the family to explain that,
if the rape resulted in a pregnancy, your daughter would have to bear the child.

How would you feel if this were your daughter?

So the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have been saying that certainly they would allow exceptions for rape or incest, uh, this week, anyway. Unfortunately the Republican platform came out this week saying “. . . no exceptions,” as it did in 2008 and as it did in 2004. Romney has declared to be for a personhood amendment to the Constitution which automatically gets us to “no exceptions,” and Ryan has sponsored any number of bills in the House to the same effect.

Confusion, confusion about rapists, right here in River City!

One aspect of this problem no one seems to be talking about are the theological bases for their stringent requirement. They claim they believe in the “sanctity of human life” (this is also in the Republican Platform) and that the baby shouldn’t be punished for the crime of the rapist. They say that God has a plan for that baby. Except, in claiming this they are denying any real power to Satan, aka the Devil. Most folks would probably say that Satan was behind the rapist, not God. And if that baby is part of Satan’s plan, should it be saved?

But that baby is innocent, they say. Uh, no, not according to scripture. These folks, who are all hot to declare a fertilized ovum, a zygote, a human being in fact and in law, seem to forget that their religion is really big on Original Sin. That baby is not only not an innocent, in fact it is going to burn in Hell, unless it gets saved, and only a very, very few will actually get saved. It’s chances are at best one in a million, so why the fuss?

If they instead claim that God was the motivator of the rapist (in that if that baby is part of God’s plan, then it was a planned pregnancy) and if God motivates rapists, then it is hard to see that God isn’t the motivator of all other atrocities in life, which kind takes the fun out of worship services.

These folks are confused about rape, they are confused about the role of law, they are confused about individual rights, and they are confused about their religion. I guess it is no surprise that they are also quite confused about evolution, climate change, economics, and much else.

The Church Lady could identify the source of their confusion if only she were around to be asked. I am sure she would say “Could it be . . . Satan?”

August 22, 2012

Well, At Least They’re Consistent Sometimes

I am, as I expect you are, flabbergasted at how clumsy the Republican’s presidential campaign is. Campaign spokesmen and candidates are contradicting one another so quickly, that it is hard to keep up. There is one area in which they almost never contradict one another, though, and that is a message from their corporate sponsors:

“Shall we say to the several millions of unemployed citizens who face the problem of existence, of getting enough to eat,
‘We will withdraw from giving you work. We will turn you back to the charity of your communities
and those selfish men of power who tell you that perhaps they will employ you if the Government leaves them strictly alone’?”
President Franklin Roosevelt, Third Inaugural Address
(The italics are mine.)

“Move along now (regulations are bad), there is nothing to see (regulations are bad), move along (regulations are bad).” Conservative Jedi

Apparently, modern Republicans, due to a near total lack of intellectual horsepower, have gotten this message a little befuddled. Their idea that regulation is bad apparently doesn’t extend to this nightmare:

Your 13-year old daughter has been brutally beaten and raped.
While in the hospital an official of the government visited
the family to explain that, if the rape resulted in a pregnancy,
your daughter would have to bear the child.

How would you feel if this were your daughter?

Isn’t the decision to consider an abortion something to be decided by the family with guidance from extended family and counsel from doctors and possibly clergy. What reason could possibly exist for this to be the subject of federal regulation?

The supporters of this abomination of a policy say that their motivation is “the sanctity of human life.”


Consider the following scenario:

One of these legislators is standing holding a pistol.
They are rapidly approached by someone with a black or brown skin holding a knife.
Do they pull the trigger?

My guess is that 99+% of them would.

So much for the sanctity of life.

The truth of this is—life is not sacred, just very valuable . . . sort of. My life is very, very valuable to me. Your life, I am sure, is very, very valuable to you. But my life is not so valuable to you, nor is yours to me. And strangers, not so much. People from very different cultures? Pffft. People labeled as “our enemies”? Shoot them! Now!

Children are really important! (I am sure everyone would agree.) But my children are really important pretty much only to me. Your children, I am sure, are really important to you. Your kids irritate me and I am sure mine do you. The children of strangers are . . . relatively unimportant. It is sad when they suffer depredations or die.

This is the truth of things.

The problem is that conservative legislators have become so inbred that they can only make up fairy tales as the basis for beliefs fed to them by others with unknown motivations. It would make good theater if it weren’t so pernicious and, well, evil.

August 15, 2012

New Republicanism and Social Darwinism

Now, I know a title including references to Republicans and Charles Darwin is combustible, but hear me out. Those Republicans of a very conservative stripe are also often conservative Christians who equate Darwin with evolution and evolution with “atheist plot to undermine the ‘Word of God.’” I know this and I do not tackle this topic lightly.

My point here is that Republicans have painted themselves as “fiscal conservatives” when they are clearly not. The past three Republican presidents have outspent the last three Democratic presidents by far (in relative terms, that is adjusted for inflation, etc.). They are definitely “social conservatives” but most certainly not fiscal conservatives.

The “New Republicans” are, in fact, Social Darwinists. Social Darwinists have nothing to do with Charles Darwin; these are people who took simplest forms of evolution theory (“survival of the fittest,” etc.) and applied it to our social order. New Republicans think “riches” equates to “success.” Consequently rich people are “more evolved” and more fit to make decisions for the rest of us. Since “money = success,” they want to keep more of their money, money they do not need, as an indicator of their success and right to rule. (Mitt Romney made more money in two months in 2011, than I have in my entire life and he did it without lifting a finger. (He was unemployed.) I have a hard time believing that he “needed” that money: wanted, yes, needed, no.)

Some New Republicans are even advocates of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand who wrote, somewhat notoriously, that the rich were not like you and me . . . they were better and should be heeded.

Unfortunately for them, real Darwinism is based on reproductive success. And the Masters of Money are making some real mistakes. They not only want control, they want recognition; they want to flaunt their power so that people will take notice. So, they back social issues like abortion prevention and denial of reproductive care, including contraception. The real Darwinian consequence of this is that the proportion of black and brown people in our society will increase and the proportion of white people will decrease (based simply on current birth rates). Since most of the Money Masters are white, this is a loss of power, not a gain. But in their arrogance, they think they can pull the wool over our eyes so we do not rise up and retaliate against their rule.

Are they right?

Medicare Math

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:38 am
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I know that the word “math” in a title is usually a trigger word that sends people running . . . the other way, but stick with me for a minute. I won’t even be using numbers.

I was one of those under-insured people you read about. From my retirement (at age 60) to my 65th birthday, the best I could afford was a health insurance policy in which I paid the first $5000 of medical expenses each year (a so-called “major medical” insurance because it doesn’t kick in until something major happens to you). But when I turn 65 I received Medicare (whew!). Being prudent I also contracted with an insurance company for a Medicare supplemental policy to cover the expenses Medicare doesn’t cover. Combined the two policies cost less than my crummy “major medical” policy did (and covers way more). By the way, if you didn’t know, you have to pay for Medicare, it is not free.

When Medicare kicks in they send you a well-organized and well-written book describing the program and making a number of health recommendations, primarily that one get a health screening to detect as early as possible any illnesses you may have or be susceptible to. In the process of doing that, I racked up several thousands of dollars of medical bills. Being a polite person, I also asked whether the doctors I consulted took Medicare patients and all of them did. I have since gotten the bills and in every case Medicare paid less than half of what was billed. Yet, the “Amount Owed by Patient” box was $0.00. This was true for doctors, technicians, hospitals, and labs (for tests).

“Medicare paid less than half of what was billed.”

At first I thought this was neat, all of those people working for less for our senior citizens but then I thought, well, who then were the full bills for? Ah hah, they were for insurance companies.

Insurance companies rarely work to hold prices down as they can just pass through increased costs to policy holders. Those policy holders are often largish businesses which look at just the bottom line and not what they are paying for item by item. Insurance companies are also trying mightily to shed individuals and any policy holder who might get sick (e.g. having a pre-existing medical condition) as a more cost effective way of improving their bottom line.

You may also have heard that a provision of “Obamacare” is that health insurance companies must pay out at least 80% of their premium income for medical care for policy holders and that when this provision kicked in several major insurance companies are having to issue rebates to customers because they failed to do that. Failing to make that 80% threshold means that their overhead and profits exceeded 20% of premium income.

So, what is Medicare’s overhead? About 3%. (Realize that the 3% is of a much smaller amount because Medicare charges so little.) In other words, 3% is a maximum value for what it costs to “push the paper.”

So, what happens if Medicare gets “voucherized” or “premium supported” out of existence? If one goes on insurance provided by one of the current companies, everybody’s costs go up, way up. The insurance company will pay $4000 for a bill that Medicare settles for $2000. And that private insurance company adds at least another 10% to the bill for its “shareholders” and high salaried executives.

A civilized debate about the future of Medicare would include:

  • the costs associated with the current plan over the next several decades
  • a debate on whether or not to figure out a way just to pay those costs (when the baby boomers die off—this is not callous as I am one—the costs of the system will drop dramatically with the numbers of participants dropping back)
  • several options for reform (each costed out) including comparisons with what other countries are doing better than we are
  • a referendum by the people as to what we want

The questions are: “Can we handle the debate?” “Will the politicians allow it?” “Will the monied powers behind the politicians allow it?”

Republicans De-emphasize Social Issues? WTF?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:47 am
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to talk only about issues of substance. Most other Republicans standing for federal offices are backpedaling on social issues, too. This is a big, big change for a party wedded to “wedge issues” as much as the Republicans are.

But here they are: they want to talk about the budget, about the economy, about “substantive” issues and they don’t want to talk about “social” issues, like the fate of Planned Parenthood, or insurance company paid for contraception, or the “life begins at conception” issue, contraception, birth control, abortion; they want to talk about none of these.

But I have to ask: who brought these things up in the first place?

The Republicans won a major victory in 2010 by running on “Where are the jobs?” and “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” and then, when they took control of the House of Representatives, what did we receive? Jobs bills?

Nope, we got bills on abortion and forced ultrasounds, then more bills on abortion, even a “life begins at conception” bill!

So, I ask again, who brought these things up in the first place?

August 14, 2012

I Can Solve the “Strasburg Problem”

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:31 pm
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Fans of major league baseball are all aflutter about the plans of the Washington Nationals baseball team shutting down one of their best pitchers next month. Nats fans are seeing this as being over protective of the pitcher and hurting the Nationals chances of making and succeeding during the playoffs, a place they haven’t been in many, many decades.

Stephen Strasburg is 13-5 with a 2.90 ERA and an National League best 166 strikeouts this season. And . . . he underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow less than a year ago. The Nationals best pitcher of this year underwent the same surgery a year earlier and was shut down last year, so the team’s management has a track record in dealing with this issue. And they are looking long term at getting value out of Mr. Strasburg for many years to come.

Strasburg has thrown 133 2/3 innings and Washington has said he will not be allowed to exceed 180 innings pitched, which means he is on pace to be shut down sometime next month, well before the playoffs.

Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped when he reaches this limit: moving to a six man pitching rotation to stretch out his influence, move him to the bull pen as a reliever to stretch out his innings, and make a pinch hitter out of him. All of these are, well, stupid.

Moving to a six man pitching rotation would affect the work routine of all of the Nationals starting pitchers and pitchers are slaves to routine, so this could potentially be disastrous to their effectiveness.

Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped
when he reaches this limit. All of these are, well, stupid.

Moving him to the bull pen is idiotic in that bull pen pitchers often have to warm up quickly which puts extra stress on their throwing arms as well as increasing the likelihood of injury. And relief pitchers often have to warm up multiple times for each appearance and relief pitches count, too. Dumb idea.

Strasburg’s primary value to the team is as a dominant pitcher. Using him as a pinch hitter, he is quite a good hitter, simply increases the chance he will injure himself as a hitter or base runner costing them more than they possibly could gain from his hitting.

The solution to the conundrum of “what to do with Stephen Strasburg other than shut him down in September” is obvious if not a little unusual. If they were to stop him from pitching there is no sense in keeping him on the active roster as he would be doing nothing, so presumably another pitcher gets called up to take his innings, if not in his exact spot in the rotation. Or someone gets bumped from reliever to starter and the new guy takes the reliever’s position. The point is that the replacement is less capable that Strasburg.

So, what to do?

Simple, platoon him.

Strasburg’s average start lasts six innings, which means if they were to stop him from pitching in 46 1/3 more innings, he would get 7-8 more starts. Pitching every five days, would mean he would be stopped in 35 days, which according to my calendar is mid-September and the playoffs will not have begun. But, if you call up or promote his replacement now, you could limit Strasburg’s starts to three innings, then call in the replacement pitcher to pitch the other three that Strasburg doesn’t pitch. Likely Strasburg will give his “long relief” guy a bit of a head start, if not a lead to carry forward. Doing this, Strasburg gets 15-16 more starts, at five days per start gives him 77-78 days which takes him well into the third week of October.

So, what to do? Simple, platoon him.

Ta da!

He pitches no more than 180 innings, but he makes to the playoffs. Instead of having him 6-7 times and then a replacement 7-8 times you have the team of him and his long reliever for the rest of the season.

It works.

And if you are really smart, the “platoon pitcher” is very different pitcher from Strasburg. Instead of the 100 mph fastballs and curveballs the other team prepared for, “Platoon Guy” comes in with an 88 mph fastball plus a variety of changeups, splitters, and sliders. It is not easy to time two pitchers who throw in very different styles.

August 6, 2012

The Olympic Curmudgeon

Filed under: Politics,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:59 am
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The Olympics as a sporting event have become bloated, corporatized, and increasingly politicized. As an apprentice curmudgeon I would offer a few suggestions to reduce the size, cost, and politics involved in the Olympic Games.

1. Remove all team sports. Do we really need a basketball championship dominated by NBA players? Water polo? Team handball? Soccer? Baseball? Team Archery? Eliminate sports in which one superstar can raise the placement of an otherwise mediocre team.

2. Eliminate all sports in which participating athletes, anywhere in the world, make over $10 million annually (in salary and prize purses, not endorsements). There go soccer, baseball, golf, tennis, . . .

3. Remove all sports that involve judges. How about that judge who awarded a boxing victory to a boxer who was punched to the canvas six times . . . in the last round? How about the ice skating judges in the Winter Olympics? Is any judging system fair? No. Off with them!

4. Remove all sports that include the words “pair,” “synchronized,” “doubles,” “eights,” etc. Let individuals compete. Again, eliminate sports in which one superstar can raise the placement of an otherwise mediocre team.

5. Eliminate sports in which the equipment needed to participate cannot be lifted by the athlete. Okay would be sports like running (shoes), shooting (gun), ski jumping (skis), pole vaulting (pole), weight lifting (obviously). Gone would be sailing, equestrian, and snow mobile acrobatics.

There, nice and tidy, affordable, and still interesting. Individuals competing using their bodies for themselves. Let the Games begin!

Oh, I forgot my previous recommendation! Replace the Opening Ceremonies with an official saying “Let the Games begin!” and the Closing Ceremonies could be replaced with the same official saying “Please join us for the next Winter Games in (location) on (date) and Summer Games in (location) on (date). Thank you for watching.”

Introducing the Political Balance

It is increasingly difficult to find common ground in this country. As a means of doing so I suggest that all decisions of import be made based on a simple tool I am calling the political balance. This is not really different from similar tools like Franklin Lists, etc. but I think the more graphic format would help people see the whole of issues rather than just what is presented to us.

The Political Balance
Imagine an old style balance, the kind held by the statue on top of federal court houses. This is then used in a number of ways, for example, consider the question “Is global warming a hoax?” On one side of the balance, you place the “No’s” and on the other side you place the “Yes’s.” Let’s start with the people involved: on the “No” side you have almost (but not quite) 100% of atmospheric scientists world wide who say that climate change is real. On the other side you have American politicians who are accepting “campaign donations” from companies with vested interests in not spending money they don’t want to and who, to a person, do not understand the science behind global climate change.

Which way does this balance tilt?

You could also take the same issue and place different things on the pans of the balance. Addressing the same question, let’s place at “ideas” on the pans. On one side we have scientists placing ideas like: “globally CO2 and other gases are accumulating in the atmosphere” and “greenhouse gases, like CO2, absorb infrared radiation that would otherwise exit the atmosphere into space, cooling the atmosphere,” and “nine out of the last ten years globally have been the hottest on record.” On the other side are ideas like “all of the scientists are wrong” and “there is a global conspiracy of scientists to undermine our economy,” “we can’t afford to make changes to the engines of our economy.”

Which way does this balance tilt?

Using the Balance
If a decision of some import is to be made, an empty balance is posted (in a newspaper, on a website, and an invitation is made to contribute to the loading of the balance. Some “shaping” of the discussion needs to be made otherwise one can be weighing “apples against oranges” as the cliché goes. Then a listing is made of the unique items contributed to each side. Then a decision is made. If the decision is made counter to what the balance indicates, then one must look closely for corruption.

Here’s an example: “Should we go to war?” Obviously, there must be a scenario, so to be a useful example, let’s use the second Iraq War as a specific example.

On the “Yes” side were the arguments that the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction and will use them against us and our allies, that eliminating Saddam Hussein’s junta would create a democratic state in the Middle East to counter the despots and theocrats surrounding Iraq (yes, this argument was made . . . before Congress!), that Israel was threatened my missiles carrying atomic or biological weapons.

On the “No” side were. . . ? At the time the “no’s” were just doubts about the “itel,” as it were, but really there should have been:
• high and low estimates on casualties
• high and low estimates on battle deaths
• high and low estimates on non battle-related deaths
• high and low estimates on collateral deaths to civilians
• high and low estimates on collateral damage to Iraqi infrastructure
• high and low estimates on political repercussions from nearby countries which support terrorist movements
• high and low estimates on costs in dollars
• high and low estimates on costs in what those dollars could buy if they weren’t spent on making war (opportunity costs)

Let’s say that even with all of this laid out the decision to go to war is made. After the fact, one could compare the estimates made and publicized with the actual numbers and we would then have a really good idea as to how well those elected officials were able to predict such things. This is critical because if somebody is really bad at making such estimates, how much should we trust them in the future?

And wouldn’t somebody who made good estimates for making such decisions be a good candidate for your vote if the ran for office?

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